- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2017

If you missed the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, fear not: A massive wave of nostalgia for the scandal that brought down a Republican president has engulfed opponents of President Trump as they seek to draw parallels to his administration.

The latest entrant in the Watergate revival comes from Academy Award winner and frequent Trump critic George Clooney, who is reportedly developing an eight-part series for Netflix about the 1974 resignation of President Nixon.

Is the timing coincidental? Probably not.

“If you can’t get enough of the debate over how the current administration compares to President Nixon‘s, Netflix might just have the show for you,” said the culture website Vulture.

Then there’s “Slow Burn,” a podcast series from Slate released *Nov. 28 that seeks to capture “what it felt like to watch a president fall,” and which was inspired by the Trump presidency.

“Why are we revisiting Watergate now? The connections between the Nixon era and today are obvious enough,” said Slate’s Leon Neyfakh.

The writer for the liberal-left site listed what he described as similarities between Mr. Trump and Nixon: “They’re both paranoid, vengeful, and preoccupied with ‘loyalty’”; between their purported crimes, “both involved cheating to win an election”; and the possible grounds for impeachment, “they both center on obstruction of justice.”

Tim Graham, director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center, chalked up the Watergate fever to the defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential race last year.

“This is really a reaction to the Democrats losing the White House,” Mr. Graham said. “When they lose, it must be because there’s something wrong with the democratic process. And we’ve seen Watergate comparisons come up before with other presidents.”

Indeed, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds argued in a May op-ed for USA Today that the Watergate comparison could be applied to the previous administration. The op-ed was headlined, “Was Obama administration’s illegal spying worse than Watergate?”

Fueling the latest round of Watergate deja vu is the presence of special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed in May to investigate reports of Russian meddling in the presidential race.

The Nixon administration featured a special prosecutor: Archibald Cox, who conducted an investigation into the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate office complex in Washington, until he was fired by the White House.

Rumors that Mr. Trump may fire Mr. Mueller — which the president has denied — prompted Salon to ask in a Monday piece, “If Trump fires Mueller is a Watergate rerun coming?”

Even before that, the Watergate parallels were in full swing after Mr. Trump’s firing in May of FBI Director James B. Comey, which unleashed articles such as “Nixon, Trump, and How a Presidency Ends” by Frank Rich in New York magazine.

“You cannot turn on a news program lately without a pundit comparing the Trump administration to the Watergate scandal,” The Federalist’s Claudine Feledick said in an article published in June.

Then there is Mr. Trump’s attack on “fake news,” which harkens to Nixon’s famously combative relationship with the press.

The press ultimately had the last laugh: The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein famously helped bring down the Nixon administration with a series of stories about the Watergate burglary and the subsequent cover-up.

So far, the next Woodward-and-Bernstein team hasn’t emerged — in fact, news outlets like CNN and ABC have been forced to correct stories on the Trump campaign — but “don’t completely rule out a repeat of history,” Margaret Sullivan said in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Trump coverage may not recruit a new generation of reporters, but it does seem to inspire those who are already in the journalism pipeline,” she said in an article titled “Trump and the Watergate effect.” “Many of them are fired up by what they see every day.”

Democrats have juiced the Watergate comparisons with calls for Mr. Trump to resign over allegations of sexual harassment, which he has denied, and by playing the impeachment card.

The House defeated last week an effort to force a debate on impeachment when only 58 Democrats voted in favor of it.

Top Democratic funder Tom Steyer launched a $20 million ad campaign to drum up support for impeaching Mr. Trump, prompting the president to label him on Twitter as “wacky & totally unhinged.”

Before Nixon resigned, the House Judiciary Committee had approved articles of impeachment, but he was never impeached.

Other liberal media outlets have argued that the Russian election meddling isn’t comparable to Watergate because it’s worse.

“We are not dealing with Watergate redux,” Andrew Cohen said in the New York Review of Books. “This situation is far more dangerous to the republic.”

Most of Watergate’s key figures have died, but not John Dean. The White House counsel in the Nixon administration, he resurfaced in a Saturday interview with The Intercept.

“What we’re looking at here, the scandal, is whether or not Trump colluded with the Russians to help defeat Hillary and to win the presidency,” said Mr. Dean. “That’s really the question. And it may or may not rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy. Then again, it might. He might have obstructed justice to prevent the investigation by overreacting.”

Mr. Dean, who pleaded guilty to one felony count in exchange for his testimony, added that “there is not a scintilla of evidence that Nixon ordered the Watergate break-in or actually knew it was going to happen.”

“But he certainly did involve himself from the outset in the cover-up. He was knee-deep in that,” he said.

Mr. Clooney’s production company, Smokehouse Pictures, is working with “Bridge of Spies” screenwriter Matt Charman on the limited “Watergate” series, which will focus on “the chief figures wrapped up in the scandal,” including Mr. Nixon, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Another Watergate reminder comes with the Dec. 22 release of “The Post,” a Steven Spielberg movie about Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, although the focus of the film is her role in reporting on the Pentagon Papers after The New York Times did so.

The Pentagon Papers story was published in 1971, before Watergate, but the film “alludes to the coming of Nixon’s presidency-ending scandal in a coda,” said a Rolling Stone review by Peter Travers.

(*Correction: This story was revised to correct the starting date of the Slate podcast series and more accurately describe its overall content.)


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